Past the neon curries of Brick Lane, and the kitschy shuffle of Spitalfields Market, The Hawksmoor seems forgettable. On a bend of commercial street laden with warehouse conversions, it sinks into the surroundings with its small signage and minimal décor. Walking past without knowing what it was, one might see it as a quiet union clubhouse, a solicitor’s office – maybe even a deserted bingo room. Yet, perhaps the greatest asset of this place is its strong subtlety: American without the sports television and bad beer; a persuasive menu of cocktails and steaks, without the nagging tagalongs of wannabe Mexican or giant deserts. This is simply a place to come to enjoy cocktails, steaks, or both, and in a city of mediocre fusion cuisine, it is refreshingly austere.
Dinner began with us being swept into seats by cheerful, plain-dressed servers, who bubbled about the cocktails and helpfully guided us through Hawksmoor’s best. I settled on the Hawksmoor Julep, which came with a tasty hunk of fresh mint and a sprig of lemon thyme, although the strength of the drink stopped me from weeding out any hints of gooseberry. My partner (ever the sober-cab) got a non-alcoholic version of the pineapple-sage mojito, which I found far more tasty and unique. In fact, the cocktail menu is simply massive, and just paging through it for a pre-dinner drink is somewhat exhausting. General Manager Nick Strangeway (of Floridita, Cecconni’s, and Annexe 3 fame), is the brainchild of The Hawksmoor and its cocktails, and commented that most of The Hawksmoor’s original business, after opening in July 2006, was from people at the bar exploring the cocktail menu. For Nick, however it’s always been a combination effort. “I know cocktails, I know steak,” he said. “I wanted the sort of place where, like you can go out in New York, you can…get a good martini, and a good steak.”
Still, you can’t argue with the cocktails, especially seeing the gaggle of people hovering around wide cups of fizz and vintage punch bowls at the speak-easy looking bar, cut into a thick wall of brick. It’s a concept-place without the pretension, and that itself is enjoyable.
As we dug into the dinner menu, our waitress again explained the starters, the different cuts and types of steaks, which was especially helpful as the menu is as minimal as the décor: a bare list of mostly meats, with sides trailing at the bottom of the menu. A large disappointment was the absence of Tamworth Ribs, which everyone has raved about and I had yet to experience. As all the meat comes from The Ginger Pig, the small award-winning butcher famed most recently in The Observer as ‘Food Monthly Producer of the Year’, there is also a very limited supply. The disclaimer on the menu pointed this out, but it didn’t dissuade my disappointment. We settled on scallops & asparagus for starters, with the scallops being tender and remarkable, and the asparagus being, well, asparagus.
For dinner, we shared a rump & chicken breast – more for diversity’s sake than for the appeal of the chicken (as we were told the steaks were bigger than most could consume), and a hodgepodge of side dishes (all a la carte). For wine, between chatting to customers and milling around the bar, Nick chose us a non-listed favourite: a 2001 Saint Chinian Maghani, which was full-bodied enough to compliment the steak, without being too big for the chicken. The wine list boasts a good selection, which Nick knows backwards and forwards.
The chicken arrived on a bed of rocket, and the steak alone on the centre of the plate: a little nugget of juicy, meaty deliciousness. Let me expound: as a foreigner, I have a huge amount of trouble with meat in this country. Every steak I’ve had, unless marinated for hours, pongs of a strange metallic mould. Colleagues have noted it’s probably as I’m used to eating meat reared on different food, but I also think it’s quite impossible to get good quality meat in such a vast city. This steak has proved me wrong. Medium to perfection, charred just right and amazingly tender, the rump was simply fantastic. Due to our own indecision, our waitress brought us a small collection of side sauces, although using them was too much of an insult to our dear cow’s sacrifice. The chicken was nicely done as well, but let’s be honest here: this is not a place you come for chicken or scallops or asparagus. This is a steak place, through and through.
Other than the absence of the ribs, the side dishes were the only real disappointment. The chips were bland, the steamed greens were soupy, and the macaroni cheese was too sharp to be palatable against the wine and the steak. We were too full for a desert, which I think is generally the case, as the desert menu is a rather pithy assortment of sundaes – seemingly non-developed as most probably can’t fit pudding in as well. All in all, The Hawksmoor is a delight. Pricey, but not pretentious. You know what you’re paying for: a good martini, and a good steak. In this city, it’s a surprisingly difficult thing to find, and definitely worth paying for.
Dinner with two main courses, two side dishes and a bottle of wine will set you back around £75.00.
Reviewer: Megan Tidd